SPRING HILL — For Scott Wern, the journey to Lakeland began four years ago when he walked into the Springstead wrestling room.
Wern is one of the true out-of-nowhere stories the Springstead program has produced over the years. He was built from the bottom up by Eric Swensen and his coaching staff every day after school and even in the summers. His coming-out party came last season at the Class 2A, District 5 tournament at Ridgewood.
Wern had 13 losses entering that tournament, but he peaked at the right time.
Then a junior, he did well in the first couple rounds, but the defining moment came in the district final. Dunedin's Danny Miller was state ranked at 171 pounds. Wern was merely a member of a highly touted program. He outwrestled Miller technically on his way to his first individual district crown.
"Last year, it was like we couldn't believe this kid was doing this," Swensen said. "Now we know he's supposed to be doing this and it's not a surprise anymore."
Wern parlayed that success into his first trip to state last season. The venture was a valuable one even though he went two losses and out. By comparison, Miller placed fifth.
This season, Wern has an individual region title. Defeating George Jenkins' Trevor Brown by major decision 16-5 cemented his reputation as a state favorite his senior season.
"Scott had a great weekend at Poinciana (for regionals)," Swensen said. "(189 pounds) was one of the toughest weight classes there and in the state."
Now standing at 41-6, he along with a crop of young lightweights and experienced heavyweights are being counted on to lead the Eagles to a fourth straight top 10 team placing, a task Wern seems more than prepared for after being the only Springstead grappler to take home a region title.
1. In its second season, Wiregrass Ranch has its first state qualifier in Eric Madden. All North Suncoast programs have qualified a grappler for state in their histories.
2. Hernando's Zach Pritz, Pasco's J.P. Gamez and Springstead's Cody Ross were the only North Suncoast freshmen to qualify for state this season.
3. Thirty-two state qualifiers equals last season's total on the North Suncoast and also the most this decade.
These are the North Suncoast's three best shots at an individual state title.
1. Daniel Pritz, Hernando (135): Last season, Pritz (38-2) placed third at 125 pounds. He looks to be the favorite since Riverdale's Jose Lopez (fifth at 130) and Robinson's Zach Boyer (sixth at 130) were the only other wrestlers in his bracket to have placed previously.
2. Jarrett Baker, Sunlake (189): Baker (38-0) enters the tournament undefeated and was one win from placing last season, but faces a tough bracket with Jacksonville Episcopal's Billy Kartsonis and Calvary Christian's Dominick Pierre, also with unblemished records.
3. Scott Wern, Springstead (189): Wern (41-6) has been tested time and again by a tough schedule, and that paid off in the form of an individual regional crown. Wern will have tough competition from Fleming Island's Grant Taylor, who was one win short of placing at 160 pounds last season.
Best of the rest
Gulf: R.J. O'Connor, 112 (42-5); Anthony Ayers, 119 (49-4); Josh Isom, 125 (30-8); Ladarious Jackson, 152 (47-4); Jacob Ritter, 171 (36-17); Matt Gallagher, 189 (42-9)
Hernando: Brandon Gunderson, 103 (25-10); Zach Pritz, 140 (34-8); Max Morrill, 145 (27-11); James Davidson, 171 (41-3)
Land O'Lakes: Justin McKay, 112 (43-8)
Mitchell: Billy Kostakis, 140 (30-8)
Nature Coast: Tyler Forand, 103 (33-13); Scott Cronin, 125 (33-12)
Pasco: J.P. Gamez, 112 (35-4)
River Ridge: Sean Hitchcock, 140 (44-7); Landon Vannata, 152 (37-8)
Springstead: Richie Bliss, 103 (45-4); Cody Ross, 119 (44-9); Nick Soto, 125 (41-6); Colton Zimmerman, 135 (38-13); Shawn Landgraff, 145 (44-12); Thad Klenovich, 160 (41-7); Jessey Lorentsen, 171 (45-8); Ken Cox, 215 (43-10)
Sunlake: James Johnson, 160 (43-8); Chris Whittington, 215 (39-11)
Wiregrass Ranch: Eric Madden, 130 (27-5)
Zephyrhills: Nick Hynes, 119 (40-7)